Supplementary Memorandum from Hamish Birchall, Dr Susan  Mallett  and Alison Macfarlane

 

In their submission to the CMS Committee Inquiry into the Licensing Act 2003, DCMS claims that although research found a 5% fall in live performances compared with 2004 levels in similar venues before the Act was implemented, it did not find that this was due to the Licensing Act. [see DCMS Memorandum to the CMS Committee, October 2008, p14, para 67]

 

But this is an untenable position. The data on which it rests cannot yield any reliable conclusions about the Act and the 5% fall in live performances.  Here's why:

 

1.  New information concerning the British Market Research Board survey of live music 2007

 

1.1  This DCMS position relies in large part on interviewee answers to two key survey questions, namely why venues had started or stopped live music.  These answers constitute a subset of about 11% of the full survey sample of 2,251 interviews. The data is set out in the BMRB survey report under figures 5.3 and 5.4 (copies of the full report are available on the DCMS website).

 

1.2  In September 2008 DCMS revealed that the responses to these questions as originally published (i.e. 'new licence allowed it' or 'issues related to licensing') were not actual answers, but paraphrased headings created by BMRB from a very wide variety of interviewee responses.  On 17 September 2008, Dr Adam Cooper, the DCMS statistician with responsibility for the BMRB live music survey, released the verbatim answers to these key survey questions.  That data is attached as an Excel spreadsheet 'Figs 5 3  5 4 Verbatims to DCMS complete'.  Dr Cooper stated that this was the first time he had seen these verbatim answers (email 16 September 2008 to Hamish Birchall, Richard Alldritt - Statistics Commission, Ed Pickering DCMS, copy available). This revelation in itself is significant. It suggests that the critical process of categorising interviewee answers was not cross-checked with DCMS. While BMRB analysts may be highly qualified in market research and statistics, they are not expert in entertainment licensing.

 

1.3  With the verbatim answers available it is clear to anyone with entertainment licensing expertise that BMRB had wrongly categorised many of the responses. For example, many of those who stopped having live music cite costs as the reason.  Costs might mean just a band's fee. But when licensees mention costs of putting on live music they often also mean licensing costs.  Unless licensing was explicitly mentioned by the interviewee, however, this was not explored further and the answer was filed under a category other than 'issues related to licensing'. The significant possibility of a licensing dimension was missed. 

 

1.4  DCMS overestimated the number of venues apparently starting live music 'because of' the new Act' (originally 7, derived from the answer category 'new licence allowed it').  The verbatim answers show that only one venue actually suggested the new law made it easier to have live music.  That sentiment was not stated or even implied by the remaining six.  And merely because a new licence allows live music does not tell us anything about any perceived benefit, or otherwise, of the new regime.  This was a basic misinterpretation by DCMS.

 

2. Unreliability of this data

 

2.1 The DCMS position relies not only on accurate categorisation of interviewee responses, but also on the credibility and reliability of those responses.

 

2.2  Many, perhaps most, interviewees within the 11% who had started or stopped live music were in no position to make an informed comparison of the old and new licensing regimes.  BRMB were aware of this.  On p9 of their report they drew attention explicitly to the high proportion of respondents that had been in post for a short time, and had limited knowledge of the policy and practice of the venue prior to them taking up their position.  And, as we have already pointed out, more than 50% of interviewees knew little or nothing about the new licensing law. It is likely that a significant proportion of interviewees within the 11% that claim to have started or stopped live music had not been working at the venue at the time the old licensing regime changed to the new in 2005, nor indeed would they necessarily have had any experience of applying for a licence under the new or old regime. 

 

3. Parliamentary Answer dated 13 October 2008 effectively conceding the unreliability of this data

 

On Monday 13 October 2008 a written Parliamentary answer was published reinforcing the view that this subset of 2007 BMRB live music survey data was unreliable. Here is the full text of the original Parliamentary question and the government reply:

 

Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty's Government:

'Whether they have determined from the survey of live music carried out in 2007 by the British Market Research Board on behalf of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (a) the proportion of interviewees who were responsible for the conversion of their venues' justices' on-licence to the new premises licence during 2005; (b) the proportion of those interviewees who started or stopped having live music since the new regime came into force who were responsible for the conversion of their venues' old justices' on-licence to the new premises licence in 2005; and (c) the proportion of interviewees who were working in the same venue since the beginning of 2005'. [HL5368]

'Lord Davies of Oldham: As the survey did not ask any direct questions concerning the responsibility for licence conversion, it is impossible to determine directly the proportion of interviewees who fell into that category. However, we did ensure where relevant that all respondents were responsible for the provision of live music at that venue. This means they would have had knowledge of any changes to their licence in relation to live music. The survey did not ask about the length of time the interviewee had been working at the venue but did ask a related question about the length of time they had been responsible for live music at the venue. The contractors reported that 60 per cent of respondents had held this responsibility for more than two years. This may be an underestimate as some of the 40 per cent who did not hold the responsibility may have worked there for longer than two years in some other capacity.'

This Parliamentary Answer confirms the following: 1) about 40% of all interviewees were not working at the venue when the new licensing regime came into force in 2005; 2) we have no idea whether or not those that were working at the venue in 2005 had any role in applying for the new licence; and 3) just because an interviewee was responsible for booking bands it does not necessarily mean, as the minister suggests, that they would know about changes to their licence, or the reasons for any changes.

Conclusion

The DCMS assertion that the Licensing Act played no part in the 5% fall in live gigs is based on unreliable anecdotal evidence from a small sample size of respondents found to have a lack of knowledge on the area relating to key findings, due to short time in post.  They cannot make any reliable claims about the impact of the Act based on this data. 

November 2008